Posted on November 25, 2022

‘Wakanda Forever’ Arrives Just in Time to Dispel Thanksgiving Myths

A.S. Dillingham, Washington Post, November 23, 2022

In 1609, the Spanish crown sent a colonial expedition force to put down a rebel community looting caravans along the camino real, the royal trade route, in what was then the colony of New Spain. The community had probably formed in the late 1500s and was led by Gaspar Yanga, an escaped enslaved person. Over the next few decades, the group settled in the mountains near Orizaba, Veracruz, creating a home for people of African descent who had freed themselves and local Indigenous people.

When Spanish forces arrived, Yanga, as the town would come to be called, defended its freedom fiercely. Outgunned, they relied on guerrilla tactics to resist the forces of colonialism, retreating into the mountains before engaging Spanish forces again. Led by an Angolan, Francisco de la Matosa, and with little more than a handful of firearms, bows and arrows, and stones, Yanga fought colonial forces to a standstill. The Spanish ultimately agreed to respect Yanga’s autonomy. And for decades, Yanga existed as a liberated space of Black and Indigenous freedom.

These inspiring and dramatic events are not fantasy, they are part of the historical record. And while Marvel’s new film, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” is very much a fantasy, it teaches us much about the real history of European conquest of the Americas and consequences of colonialism.

Indeed, “Wakanda Forever” educates us more about that history than our Thanksgiving myth. That story involves a shared meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags in 1621 and emphasizes peaceful coexistence rather than the reality of colonial violence. “Wakanda Forever” foregrounds European conquest of the continent. And through fantasy, the film gestures to the very real historical experiences of Black and Indigenous resistance to colonialism.

In “Wakanda Forever,” we are introduced to a new character, Namor or Ku’ku’lkán, an anti-hero who leads an underwater civilization, Talokan. That civilization’s origins are in the early days of Spanish colonialism, in which Mayan societies suffered war, disease and slavery at the hands of conquistadors. Ku’ku’lkán emerges from this moment. And while he is a villain, he is also a powerful, charismatic figure whose backstory reveals the violence and destruction of European colonialism. Indeed, the underwater society he builds, a beautiful, complex and proud civilization, considers itself at war with the dominant powers above ground. Ku’ku’lkán is played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who has been an advocate for dark-skinned people in Mexico, often termed “prietos.”


And so, by building two Black and Indigenous civilizations, Wakanda and Talokan, “Wakanda Forever” imagines alternative responses to a world dominated by western imperial powers.


It is in this sense that “Wakanda Forever” speaks to this shared history in the Americas. It does not depict (at least not yet) an alliance of oppressed peoples, but it identifies a central truth of our continent and our present world: the oppression and exploitation of Black and Indigenous peoples and their complex but constant efforts to resist colonialism.


Our Thanksgiving myth serves to obscure historical reality whereas fantasy, in “Wakanda Forever,” allows us to reckon with historical trauma and imagine alternative futures. The Black and Indigenous rebels of Yanga are worth us remembering precisely because they allow us to imagine a future in which solidarity overcomes divisions imposed by colonialism.